Combat Shock (1984)

This is further proof that the films Troma distributes are far better than the films they make themselves. Don’t be fooled by the cover depicting a “Rambo”-style bloodbath. This is a grim and harrowing portrait of a Vietnam vet’s hell. Sure, the production values aren’t great, but they add to the raw feel of the film. This isn’t a film that’ll uplift you (with the exception of feeling happy this isn’t your life depicted). However, it is a powerful if impoverished film that must be seen.

There isn’t much explicit violence for the first hour or so (with the exception of some Vietnam flashbacks). It depicts a veteran roaming the streets trying to make money yet maintain a sense of morality. He finds it difficult to be a good human being when he looks at the scum around him. He’s in debt to a local loan shark, his only friend is a junkie, his wife nags him, and his baby was deformed by agent orange. Between what he has to take and his memories of Saigon, he finally snaps at the end.

This isn’t an exploitation film as many may assume. Its obvious the director wanted to create something heartfelt and realistic about the trauma experienced by vets. He couldn’t get anyone to finance it except Troma, who were known for schlock such as “Class of Nuke ‘Em High”. The baby is another notable aspect. Outside of “Eraserhead”, there isn’t a more disturbing deformed child caught on camera. The ending when he finally loses (reminding one of “Taxi Driver”) is predictable but still powerful. There are scenes however that subtly show the main character to be a multi-dimensional person with feelings. He tries to talk to a child prostitute and help her only to be attacked by her pimp. Most distressing of all is the scene in which he calls his father (who thought he died in Saigon) to ask for money. Some have criticized the Vietnam flashbacks as being painfully low budget and obviously shot in New Jersey. They certainly don’t look accurate but they do have a dreamlike feel that adds to the dementia of the character. Overall, this isn’t a perfect film but is a memorable one